Learning to Learn: the REU teaches investigation and presentation techniques

July 11, 2017

Starting last year, the University of Louisville Micro-Nanotechnology Center has played host to a diverse array of visiting students here as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates initiative. Ten students visit for a total of 13 weeks starting in May, with half of the students pulled from Kentucky college and half from out of state all working on nanotechnology or additive manufacturing. Students are exposed not only to unique learning opportunities, but allowed the freedom to explore new cultures and places by staying on our campus.

“Students get to see another campus. Part of our goals was to encourage STEM graduate interest in Kentucky. NSF is very sensitive to increasing diversity,” says Dr. Kevin Walsh, Dean of Research and founding director of the MNTC.

The REU involves students pursuing a research goal of their choosing, which they present at the end of their time in the camp. Practicing their ability to communicate their research is integral to the program.

“We have mock up poster presentation. Rather than have a poster printed they put it on a screen as a power point slide. Every week they’re presenting. At the end of the ten weeks, they’re pretty ready,” says Ana Maria Sanchez Galiano, program manager.

The project culminates at Georgia Tech, where the students present their project in a poster, which requires an economy of language to convey.

According to Sanchez, “Research posters are a way of presenting research work. They print posters, a summary of what their research is about. They have a little abstract at the top of the poster. They have pictures about either the devices that they make or the data that they get, graph tables.”

She continues, ”Most conferences require specific poster dimensions and you have to fit everything in it. They have hallways of poster boards, and they will give you a board number, which you are to stand by. Guests at the conference go from poster to poster. They are required to present in language that anybody can understand. You could be technical in your research and not be able to explain your research to others. It’s complicated and a challenge.”

In addition to their research opportunities, students are afforded the chance to work in the Clean Room, which provides a valuable experience for burgeoning engineers.

“They build a solar cell. They are learning the different microfabrication skills. It serves as a nice little training for those students who will continue with their faculty mentor on microfab,” says Walsh.

Sanchez adds, “Everyone has individual projects, but they also have a project that they do in the Clean Room. After two and a half weeks, they have time to dedicate to their individual projects. Each one has a different project in a different discipline of engineering. Each student has a project and has a mentor. After they’re done with the solar cells, they can work on their project.”

Ultimately, the program is intended to engage students in the process of research. There is little emphasis placed on creating or finalizing a project, but much given to the regiment required to do so.

“We have projects from all the disciplines in engineering. It’s not about making a device it’s about doing research,” says Sanchez.